There’s the Rub

Perplexed

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Can it be that Jojo Binay has lost some clout with the public, falling in its esteem not so inconsequentially? So the SWS says, by all of eight points, from an “excellent” 70 to a “good” 62. Binay is disbelieving, saying he is perplexed by that finding. Not least because Pulse Asia says the opposite: He is going up and not down.

I myself have been, well, perplexed by the SWS’ recent surveys showing some pretty wild swings in the senatorial candidates’ rankings when Pulse Asia reports relative stability there. Or at least less volatility in the movements.

But my own perplexity lies more in this: If Binay has gone down, why hasn’t Nancy done so as well? The lot of the second depends largely on the first. Like Jackie Enrile, Nancy Binay shines on borrowed light. She is an unknown quantity, little helped by the fact that she seems exceedingly loath to appear in debates. Yet despite being savaged for that in the social media—enough for her father to cry cyberbullying, forgetting Tito Sotto made the same claim after getting brickbats for plagiarism—she has kept her position in the rankings, if not indeed gone higher. Now that is perplexing.

Maybe SWS is right about the father and wrong about the daughter? Maybe. We’ll know soon enough.

But though I’m perplexed about it, I’m not entirely unconvinced about it. I myself have been wondering when, and not if, that dip, or downright fall, would happen. It’s not just because it’s the hardest thing to maintain such high ratings, and Binay has been doing so for quite some time now—since he became vice president in fact. Aquino himself suffered a steep fall in ratings when he ran for president, his unprecedented levels of popularity diving to dangerous lows, nearing close to party with his chief rival, Manny Villar. It’s also because there are compelling reasons to expect something like that to happen.

Analysts who have taken the SWS finding at face value attribute it to the charge of dynasty-building, which appears to be taking its toll. There’s something to be said for it. Dynasty is not always clearly defined, but in this case it takes on a definite shape. Jojo is vice president; his wife, Elenita, is a former mayor of Makati; his son, Junjun, is the mayor of Makati; his daughter, Abigail, is a representative (Makati, second district), and his other daughter, Nancy, will very likely be a senator after a couple of weeks. This suggests, if not dynasty, at least a fiefdom—it does reek of feudal, if not imperial, arrangements.

Four people in the same family holding high positions in public office at the same time cannot escape public notice. That public has a keen sense of excess, as we know very well from the slogan “Tama na, sobra na.” The last part of that slogan, of course, is “palitan na.” Binay would be right to read danger there.

But more than this, I’ve been wondering for some time now how long it would take before his association with some of the most unsavory characters in this country took its toll. Binay’s strength lies in the public perception of him as someone who is propoor and big-hearted, may malasakit. That’s what the stories say: He lives simply and goes around Makati talking to ordinary folk. It’s not PR, people say, he really enjoys talking to them. And that’s what the surveys say: The respondents who have kept him up there for some time now say he’s not matapobre, he understands the poor, he is magaling makisama.

That reputation, or perception of his pagkatao, stands to be strained, and is probably now being strained, by the company he keeps. To begin with, the fact that UNA has a troika leading or guiding it creates the impression he is not in control of his party. An impression deepened by Estrada doing the speaking for the group—until recently when he found himself in a scrappy dogfight with Alfredo Lim for the post of mayor of Manila. Certainly, Estrada was the one who kept appearing in the media making statements for the group.

Who are Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile? Estrada is a convicted plunderer and Enrile is reputed to have helped Marcos steal not just this country’s money but also its freedom. Arguably, Estrada is the ultimate Teflon; charges and even convictions just seem to bounce off him. His doing time for corruption did not stop him from almost becoming president again. But what applies to him—he is seen as a charming rogue by a wide public—does not necessarily apply to other people. Binay does not have the larger-than-life persona to completely dodge the tarnishing.

And, of course, after enjoying a brief romance with the public, capped by his best-selling fiction about his heroism during martial law, Enrile has fallen into hard times image-wise again.

Just as well, who are Binay’s senatorial candidates in UNA? They include a son of Erap and a daughter of Binay, an Arroyo loyalist, a fellow who stole four years of another senator’s term, a reputed murderer, and a person whom the arguably best mayor of Manila, Arsenio Lacson, called “so young and so corrupt.” Who are JV Ejercito and Nancy Binay, Mitos Magsaysay, Migz Zubiri, Jackie Enrile, and Ernesto Maceda. The first two suggest that the party has a tolerance, if not penchant, for dynasty-building, the rest suggest that the party has no scruples. At the time the SWS survey was taken, which was March, the Wikileaks leak on Jackie had not yet come out. It should be interesting to see what the next survey says.

Can Binay’s sails stand this buffeting? Will he continue to be seen as propoor while sharing the company of thieves, if not a thief himself, Robin Hood or not? Can he be seen as a magandang tao foisting a mamamatay-tao on us?

He does, and we’ll be perplexed.

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